The Open Rights Group has published its very interesting and damning report into the electronic and internet and phone voting pilot trials held in certain areas during the May 2007 Local Elections in England and Wales and the Scottish Parliament Elections
The Open Rights Group (ORG) believes that the problems observed at the English and Scottish elections in May 2007 raise serious concerns regarding the suitability of e-voting and e-counting technologies for statutory elections. E-voting is a ‘black box system’, where the mechanisms for recording and tabulating the vote are hidden from the voter. This makes public scrutiny impossible, and leaves statutory elections open to error and fraud.
The Government has prioritised the introduction of e-voting because of the perceived convenience of new technologies, ignoring other vital considerations such as confidence and trust in the electoral system. ORG considers that the problems observed and difficulties scrutinising results delivered by e-counting systems bring their suitability for statutory elections into question.
We think that the Open Rights Group are being rather too polite and diplomatic about the bungling and incompetence which they witnessed.
Some of this can be attributed to the "very tight timescales" to which these pilot schemes were operating, but there is no excuse for such poor project planning and management, since the dates of these elections have been known for years in advance.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs appears not to have learned any lessons from the similar failed experiments during the 2000 Local Elections.
The Election Observers from ORG were obstructed to varying degrees by jobsworth petty officials, and the candidates and party workers seem to have lost confidence in the alleged accuracy of the counts, in almost all cases.
The software and hardware suppliers were, for no good reason, allowed to fiddle with the systems, and introduce undocumented, unaudited software changes, even on Election day.
The Returning Officers seemed to be uninterested in supervising or even visiting, let alone properly auditing the setup and functioning of internet web and application server computers, which were not physically located at the election count sites.
The ORG observers had to plead and beg for even a visit to some of these computer rooms.
ORG Observers were discriminated against in their use of mobile phones and cameras, even when they were standing next to members of the Press who were using them.
It is amazing that the ORG observers had to keep ringing up the DCA to get them to intercede with local election Returning officers and with the suppliers of the electronic vote counting and internet and phone voting software and hardware systems, for access as observers, with mixed results.
All of the documented failures of hardware of electronic ballot paper counting systems e.g. power failures affecting document scanners, high rejection rates due to non-standard printed ballots or ink, alleged corruption of files "because they had got too large" etc. should have been entirely predictable and should have been detected and fixed during testing before before the real election day.
It is astonishing that there are so many documented instances of physically insecure and easily tampered with computer hardware, from laptop computers being in the possession of council staff at home prior to being used at the Election Count, to the widespread use of USB memory drives for unsupervised data transfer, to insecure computer cabling and Ethernet or Serial or USB ports and connectors etc through which malicious software could have been inserted into the systems, or which could have been used to snoop on and violate the supposed secrecy of the ballot..
Even the supposedly independent Electoral Commission seems to have botched the planning of the Scottish Parliament ballot papers design - those tested via focus groups seemed to bear little resemblance to the badly designed one actually used on the day.
The internet voting receipts seem to have been anything but sufficient to allow the general public to have confidence that their votes had been received properly or had not been tampered with.
How, in one case, can an Adobe .PDF file of a single receipt take 69 pages to print out ??
Why did legally permitted, independent election monitors like ORG have to resort to requesting documents and audit files via Freedom of Information Act requests, many of which were obstructed, when all of this data should have been transparently available as a matter of course ? This implies that there must be something to hide.
What if, as seems likely, there has to be a criminal investigation into allegations of voting fraud during the May 2007 elections ?
The ORG report makes it clear that the Police will have little evidence on which to either prove or disprove such allegations, if they involve e-voting.
We salute the Open Rights Group for their voluntary work in observing these elections and producing this report.
Will the Department for Constitutional Affairs or the Electoral Commission produce anything as comprehensive ?
Before e-voting is inflicted on the British public again, there should be agreed technical standards, licensing of hardware and software suppliers, with testing, change management, tamper resistance inspection and auditing routines at least as comprehensive as those enforced by the Nevada Gaming Commission which successfully regulates casino gambling technology in Las Vegas etc.